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Investigating The Strange Disappearance Of David Lang


By James Donahue


There is a story planted deep in the heart of American mythology about a farmer named David Lang who suddenly vanished in front of the eyes of his family and friends while walking across an open field.


It is an old story dating back a good many years, and it once was featured in the former FATE Magazine. That the story found its way into the print media gave it some degree of credibility.


As the story is told, Lang was walking across a pasture on his farm, located a few miles from Gallatin, Tennessee, on the afternoon of Sept. 23, 1880. His wife, Emma was in the front yard with their two children, George, 8, and Sarah, 11, and a family friend, Judge August Peck, was arriving at the farm on horse and buggy for a visit. Lang waved at Judge Peck as he turned to walk back toward the house.


At that moment, even as the judge and Lang’s family reportedly looked on, Lang vanished in front of their eyes. Everybody rushed to the spot where they had last seen Lang and found no trace of him. By that evening, all of the neighbors were on the scene, lanterns in hand, assisting in a fruitless search. The only theory they could come up with was that Lang fell into a hole in the ground, but no sign of such a hole could be found.


Some months later the Lang children noticed that the grass at the site was turning yellow, and the altered grass formed a circle about 15 feet in diameter. Sarah called her father’s name, and the children allegedly said they heard his voice, faintly calling for help as if from far away. The calls continued until the voice faded.


The FATE Magazine story, which appeared in 1931, claimed to have been documented by an interview with the daughter, Sarah Lang, by a Stuart Palmer. Palmer allegedly produced a signed affidavit on which Lang assured readers that every word in the story was accurate and true, just as it happened.


The FATE story said Sarah turned to Spiritualism in later years in her search for answers. She sought out world famed mediums in an effort to communicate with her parents. By then, her mother was dead and buried. In her research, Sarah learned that she could personally communicate with the dead using a planchette – a piece of wood with a pencil attached, and a form of spirit writing.


While she claimed to have succeeded in communicating with both parents, Sarah never produced an answer to the mystery of what happened to her father that day in the field.


The David Lang story was finally put to rest in 1976 when researchers Robert Forrest and Bob Rickard went to Gallatin, Tennessee, and looked into the Lang family origins. In a story published in Fortean Times, they wrote that they found no record of such a family ever living in the area and the farm on which Lang allegedly disappeared never existed.


Hershal G. Payne of the Nashville Public Library, a local historian, said it was his opinion that the Lang story was a fabrication by Joe Mulhatten, a traveling salesman in the 1880s who was legendary for telling tall tales.


This story was so good it became legend.